Geoff Scott, superintendent in Forrest Little GC talks winter work, budgets & volunteering

Dubliner Geoff Scott, has been the course manager at Forrest Little in Cloghran, north Dublin since the beginning of 2013. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his winter program, producing a quality course on a budget, volunteering at prestigious golf tournaments and more.

The 7th out in Forrest Little

Forrest Little is an 18 hole parkland course located adjacent to the village of Swords in North County Dublin, within easy reach of Dublin Airport, the M1 and M50 motorways. Founded in 1940, the club recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The original club course was out in Donabate, where Corballis Links is today, but members made the move in 1971 to Forrest Little where the superb Fred Hawtree, designed the present par of 71 course. Hawtree was the course architect at The Island Golf Club and the championship course at Portmarnock Golf Club.

Well-known for its lush vegetation and well maintained fairways, Forrest Little has been the host of multiple GUI tournaments and was a qualifying course for the Irish Open for several years. The course presents a great challenge to golfers of all skill levels with its tree lined fairways, strategically positioned bunkers, water features and superb greens. The sand based greens and superb drainage ensure that this hidden gem is open for play just about all year round. The standout 7th hole, once rated as the Best 7th Hole in North Dublin, is a stunning par 3 with a large pond at the front and 6 protective bunkers surrounding the green. The green is much deeper and longer than it appears from the tee and has very subtle undulations.

The greens at Forrest Little are free-draining, sand-based greens and are open for play all year round, with the exception of extreme conditions. “We have a USGA spec profile on the greens, they are great to work with, free draining. We would probably be about 80-85% poa-annua, which is fine, we work with what we have. We have been implementing an over-seeding program, which we carry out at coring time. We use the plant pot method, where we ¾ fill holes with sand and then we broadcast the seed out onto it and cover again with more sand, giving the seed a nice bed to germinate in. Our aim is to get as much bent grass into the greens as we can, but it’s not going to be a case where you are going to get 10% coverage in a year. You could be lucky to have 2-3% of bent grass that will actually survive and sustain because the poa-annua can be so smothering. So we try to manage that by lowering the nutrition towards the poa-annua to create space for the bent grasses to thrive in.”

Geoff Scot and some of the winter foot traffic measurements put in place

“We had been suffering a lot with black layer but over the last number of years we have managed to reduce it a lot by managing the nutrients we are using and other little actions like slitting, to let a little air into the profile. These actions help drive that black anaerobic layer back down into the profile making it as comfortable as possible for the grass species to be in that environment, but we are still suffering a little in some of the low points on some of the greens.”

Geoff manages a team of four greenkeepers and together they manage, maintain and improve the quality of the course throughout the year. So how does Geoff manage to stay on top of things with such a tight group? “It’s tough, in 2013 we had seven staff, today we have five. Which is tight, especially when you consider a straight forward winter job like leaf litter management, takes one or two guys, depending on the time of year, and they could be out five days a week.”

So, what does the team at Forrest Littles’ winter program look like? “We have the winter mats out on the par 3’s, we held back putting them out as long as we could. Members don’t like them but they are a necessary evil. A necessary expense too, they can be dear. They are also heavy and cumbersome, not easy to put out, but they are a means to an end at the end of the day and you will reap the benefits come February. In fairness, we would only have four or five mats out at any given time, we have winter tee boxes on some of the holes and that eliminates the need for them a little. Also, some of the holes with bigger tee boxes, like the 2nd, 3rd and 4th for example, are manageable in the winter.”

“The golfers don’t like them. Regardless, they pay for themselves over and over again because any wear and tear the course gets in the winter, will not be able to be repaired again until the spring.”

“With regards to the golfers themselves it’s all about traffic management, we have to direct the course traffic. It’s a lot of ropes and hoops, and they are not to pleasant for us green keepers, they get in the way of our mowing, we have to get up and move them. Even if we are not mowing we have to keep changing them around daily and tighten them up, it’s a lot of work, especially with a tight staff roster and again, the golfers don’t like them. Regardless, they pay for themselves over and over again because any wear and tear the course gets in the winter, will not be able to be repaired until the spring.”

“We raise up our height of cut on the fairways and I hope we are not the only club in the country that are suffering with worm cast. It’s been a nightmare and there is just nothing out there anymore in as far as products to tackle or cure it. For prevention, we try put out a top-dressing of sand on the fairways, maybe about 300 tonnes, later in the backend of the season to try and make an uncomfortable environment for the worms. It doesn’t actually do a whole lot to cure the worm cast but it dilutes the worm cast. So our cut heights come up a bit on the fairways, which isn’t ideal but again, it’s a means to an end.”

“Once the weather has the greens a little softer, we hand mow them. Again, everything comes up in the height of cut, we try to put the grass to bed as it were, shut the plant down. We will try to harden the grass of with iron, magnesium, manganese and seaweed etc. We work on a preventative fungicide program, so we would be out once a month putting out fungicide. I say once a month but I am yet to see a fungicide last me 28 days like they are meant to, I would typically see 21 days from a fungicide at stretch.”

“I’m a strong advocate of just informing your committees, letting them know, ‘this is what we had, this is what we don’t have and this is what it will mean’, you need to inform them of potential problems”

Any issues with disease this year? “Not as much as previous years, we had a lot of disease pressure towards the back end of September and October 2016, heavy pressure. This year, I didn’t find as heavy a pressure, we kind of got about two weeks out of a fungicide where as two years previously I had an outbreak just over 7 days after a fungicide. With the cold weather coming in this winter, it has relieved the pressure for us but we were not getting that in the previous years.”

Chipco will be sorely missed when it is pulled from the shelves in March“It’s a case of constant monitoring, with Chipco Green coming off the market in March, you’re not going to have your ‘magic wand’ to wave at it anymore. I do think we are in a better place now than say 4-5 years ago in terms of preventative measures as opposed to fungicides. There is definitely better products for your hardening off programmes, but it’s still not ideal and you have to work with what you have, if you can’t get it you can’t get it. I’m a strong advocate of just informing your committees of ‘this is what we had, this is what we don’t have and this is what it will mean’, you need to inform them of potential problems, communication is key.”

Any standout products? “Yeah, in a case of the penetrant wetting agent, where you are looking to pull moisture and air down through the profile. Rocastem from Terra Lift. I would add that to our seaweed and iron program. Another good product I have found is a turf hardening product called Mantel. There is a lot of magnesium in it to harden up the plant cell wall and I find it is a great product. Without the hardeners a lot of lads would be in a much worse place now with Chipco coming off the market.”

Like pretty much all clubs up and down the country, Forrest Little have had to deal with decreased budgets though the years but young green keepers like Geoff are able to adapt and relish the challenge. Regarding working on tighter budgets, keeping the committee happy and dealing with sales reps, Geoff says, “It’s something (the budget) you got to keep a close eye on, and at the end of every month I tot up what I’ve spent. Then when I meet with the committee every quarter and if it looks like I am under or over budget, I can show them how my own numbers are matching up because sometimes invoices aren’t in yet and stuff like that. It’s important that you can kind of predict when you’re going to have certain expenditure, you know you will need your fungicides in winter, then your fertilisers in the spring, your sand throughout the year, your hire costs etc. You need to be able to predict as best as you can.”

“The sales reps are a good source of information but they have their own agenda too, which is fine, but you take in the information and try to work out what’s best for you”

“I’ve just been trying to find the best value and the best product. Obviously the cheapest product isn’t always the best. You got to set out your goals and what you want to achieve and what you want from the grass and your fairways and really break it down to what works best for you. The sales reps are a good source of information but they have their own agenda too, which is fine, but you take in the information and try to work out what’s best for you.”

“I am a big believer in working out the size of the areas you are working with. It’s much easier to order X amount of fertilisers when you know exactly how much fairway you need to cover. There are so many apps out there now that you can use to measure your areas down to a couple of feet. Working out your tees area, your greens and fairway areas, you can really tighten up your budget a little bit.”

“You need to be able to predict as best as you can, I’d would love to have a magical crystal ball that could predict the future but you just can’t. For example, in the last couple of years, we have spent a lot more than we would have wanted on machinery repairs, which unfortunately, is one of the pitfalls of having an aging fleet.”

“I can go to the committee and say, ‘Yes, it’s a big outlay’, but then I can show them my logs and follow up with, ‘It’s a big outlay anyway!'”

Forrest Little have a good range of machines in the shed, but it is an aging fleet which means that a good part of the budget is put aside for machinery repairs. Luckily, Geoff and his team have a system put in place staying on top of any spiralling repair costs, “We do have an aging fleet of machines, which means a lot of repairs and this can feel like throwing good money after bad. Fortunately enough, we do keep a machinery log, where each machine is numbered and I can take note of what service each machine gets, when its due a service etc. Using this log, can keep a handle on how the machines are performing, for example a machine that’s costing €2000 more to run this year than it was last year, I can assess why? I can use these figures to justify potential machinery investment. If a machine is constantly needed work and repairs, I can go to the committee and say, ‘Yes, it’s a big outlay’, but then I can show them my logs and follow up with, ‘It’s a big outlay anyway!'”

“Keeping the log is a bit of work but you just have to stay on top of it, it’s not going to work by just doing an assessment at the end of every month where you are guessing and estimating figures, keep a notebook book with you and scribble down notes as you go and then just type it up when you get a chance. It’s more information for the boards and committees and that’s what they want.”

Whats in the shed?

Toro Workman x 2
Toro Groundsmaster 3500D Sidewinder
Toro Groundsmaster 4700 Rough Mower
Toro Reelsmaster 5610 Fairway Mower
Toro Groundsmaster 3250 Green & Tees Mower
Toro Greensmaster Flex 21 Hand Mowers x 3
Toro Topdresser
Toro GreenPro 1200 Turf Iron
Toro Sprayer
John Deere 2500A w/ Verti Cutting Heads
Amazon Leaf Collector
Deutz Tractor w/ Turf Tyres
Deutz Blower
Turfco Trail Blower
Groundsman Core Collector
SISIS Slitter

So, what machine in particular would Geoff find it hard to live without? “The Toro 4700 rough mower is a great machine, it’s just a little expensive to run. Hard on diesel and it’s hard on belts, bearings and rollers and things like that. You would be looking at a couple of grand a year just to keep it going.”

“Another tool that has saved us a lot of back ache is the Groundsman Core Collector, it goes on the back of the small tractor and you can just push the cores to the end of the green. So that’s one man to pile up all the cores on the green as opposed to 4 or 5 guys with snow shovels.”

The TORO Procore 864, hard to live without
Geoff can certainly manage most jobs with his current fleet but what would be on his wish list as far machinery goes? “Unfortunately we don’t own our own Procore, it’s the one machine I would love to have and I have begged, stole and borrowed them (usually hire haha). It’s worth its weight in gold, I’ve had them out on the course and the golfers would be out just after me and they wouldn’t know I was there. We do have a small verti-drainer, specifically for the greens, but it can be tough get a machine like that onto a green, sand based greens or not, your still dealing with damage from the weight of the tractor and the verti-drainer itself.”

“It’s worth its weight in gold, I’ve had them out on the course and the golfers would be out just after me and they wouldn’t know I was there”

Geoff will hire a TORO Procore once a year, “We core with the side inject tines once a year, the first week in September, always the All Ireland Hurling Final Sunday. This year I was coring on the Sunday and listening to the game on my phone, my girlfriend’s parents are from Galway so it’s important to make sure I at least pretend to be supporting them. During the winter, we have a SISIS Slitter, and I will try to go out twice a month in it or during a particularly wet period, once a week. I think it’s a tool that a lot of greenkeepers have, and don’t use. I think it’s great, it’s a bit of an old fashioned tool but you can go as deep or shallow as you want and it just opens up the profile, lets the turf breathe a little bit.”

Forrest Little had the course drained back in 2008. The work was carried out by Peter O’Brien Landscaping, the work was implemented over three years with the major problem areas being treated first. They tied the new drainage into the existing main line that was already there to take all the water away. The course doesn’t close a lot for flooding, but we are still living in Ireland, there are going to be extreme rain conditions every now and then.

“Dermot from Peter O’Brien Landscaping is actually a member so he knew pretty much where the wet patches were and where needed work. In fairness to the committee, this work has really stood to the course. Still, it’s important to keep the fairways top-dressed and keep that drainage line open and free of clay and contaminants. This would be my big driver as to why we top-dress, the drainage line works far better through sand. It’s been a yearly maintenance but is performing really well.”

Another recent renovation to the course was actually carried out by the DAA (Dublin Airport Authority), “On the 9th hole, the DAA took down over 200 trees as part of the work being carried out for Dublin Airports new runway. It has opened up the view of the airport field, which I think is a nice feature. The 9th was always a wet hole, but when the DAA felled the trees, it really improved the airflow a lot, and the sun can get at the surface to help dry it up quicker.”

The 12th out in Forrest Little

Other renovations carried out include the recently modified pond on the 12th. The dog-leg left measures 312 metres. The tough par 4 is lined with trees and out of bounds on the left, it requires a shot of 200 metres to carry the stream. If you play to the right, a slightly longer approach shot awaits. The pond protects the front left of the green. “We recently lined the lake on the 12th with sleepers for a more aesthetically pleasing effect. It also let us raise the level of the water hazard, which is useful because the 12th has quite a low fairway, so a visiting golf society mightn’t have known the water was there, but the sleepers have brought the pond into the golfer’s eye line.”

So what future developments does Geoff envision for the club, “Last year we rebuilt the first tee box and this year we put in an irrigation storage tank for the water. Hopefully, next up for future developments, we will have a look at relevelling some more tee boxes. The tee boxes are about 20-25 years old, some of them more, and they have that concave nature from topdressing and divot filling and playing up the middle of them. Over the years you lose a bit of that teeing area, so you have a big tee box but with very little suitable teeing surface. So the plan will be to do two or three a year, where we will strip them, level them and try improve them that way.”

“I liked the idea of an internship, but then the course in the College of Amenity Horticulture came about and you could specialise in sports turf throughout that 3 year course”

Geoff grew up in Marino, where he developed a background in horticulture through his father and grandfather who were both keen green fingers. They had greenhouses in the back garden and a ‘grow your own’ way of thinking that influenced heavily on Geoff. His dad, a keen golfer who had played off 3, before slipping a disc in his back, had also got him into golf from an early age, bringing him out to play and go to pro tournaments, “When the American Express Open was on in Mount Juliet, myself and my Dad would go and we would be first down there every year. I was always more interested in the guy’s out setting up the course.”

In his fourth year in secondary school, Geoff did a week’s work experience on a golf course and knew that it was what he wanted to. So, when he heard about an Open Day in the College of Amenity Horticulture in the Botanic Gardens, he pushed himself to attend and met a couple of lecturers who told him about a Bachelor’s of Science in Horticulture where he could specialise in sports turf. “Around the time of my final school exams, I got an offer for doing the greenkeepers course through the golf club, kind of as a placement. I liked the idea of it, but then the course in the College of Amenity Horticulture came about and you could specialise in sports turf throughout that 3 year course. It was great to have the greenkeepers course to fall back but I had my heart set on the course in the Botanic Gardens, so I knuckled down, got the points I needed and got on the course.”

“I just loved it. The course wasn’t purely a sports turf course as maybe I had hoped it would be and as for some of the horticulture side of the course, because I had a bit of a background in it, I could understand why you would need that knowledge. I’ve had friends who did the horticulture course in UCD, which is a great course, but just to be in the Botanic Gardens and surrounded by the diverse flora, I found it invaluable. I was happy that I pushed myself to go to the open day because I really enjoyed that course.”

“It was a three year, full-time course but I could still keep my foot in the industry by working weekends here (Forest Little) and working summers. I went into the course with a very limited knowledge, just what I picked up guys, but then all of a sudden when someone was explaining something to you, you would be thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what those guys meant’. And I could bring that knowledge here with me in the summer and talk to the guys here, who were very good with me during that time in terms of being open to me. It worked well that I could stay in touch with the industry while I was educating myself in it.”

When Geoff left college, he stayed on at Forrest Little for another three or four years as a greenkeeper, during those years he would expand his knowledge and make a lot of contacts within the industry through his volunteer work, “I volunteered at the 2011 Solheim Cup out in Killeen Castle, which was great because there was a lot of young guys my own age involved. We were sent out raking bunkers and cutting tee boxes during the tournament, which drove my interest to volunteer at more tournaments.”

In 2013 when the position of Assistant Course Manager became available at Forrest Little, Geoff interviewed for the position and managed to get it, it wasn’t long then until he made the step up to Course Manager, “This is when I first got a taste of being involved with committee’s and stuff like that. I was assistant for two years and then in very early 2015, I was promoted up to Course Superintendent.”

For Geoff the journey was swift and rewarding, but with more power comes more responsibility, “It’s been a very enjoyable journey so far, with each step comes more involvement, more responsibility. When you experience what’s involved with every step, you can see that there is a lot that you don’t see as a greenkeeper, you are expected to be the fountain of knowledge that knows about all facets of the golf club.”

“I would really encourage anybody in the green keeping industry, young and old, to go and apply and just get over, rake bunkers for the week and have a blast”

Volunteering holds a special place in Geoff’s heart and he would consider his volunteer work as playing a huge part in getting him to where he is today, “I would really encourage anybody in the green keeping industry, young and old, to go and apply and just get over, rake bunkers for the week and have a blast. Make contacts and drive your own enthusiasm and bring home that enthusiasm and all the pointers and ideas you pick up. It may mean giving up a week of your holidays but it’s a life changing experience and will really stand to you.”

“A couple of years ago I volunteered at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, Arizona and it was just a really great experience. The TCP Scottsdale course is a golf course that has to be seen to be believed, it has the spectacular 16th hole, par 3, a hole that is completely surrounded by rafters like a stadium. I just applied to the Waste Management Open and was lucky enough to be selected. I just paid for my flights over and was then put up, fed and watered for the week. I got to meet, obviously the team at TCP, but also other volunteers from around the world. I would be out cutting greens on the front nine in the morning then cutting on the back 9 in the evening. When you went out on the 16th, you would get a fair bit of stick from the massive crowd who are cheering and chanting, all in good spirit, it was great.”

The 16th and 17th out in Forrest Little…16th in Scottsdale & the famous 17th in Sawgrass

The Players Championship offers the highest prize fund of any tournament in golf. Played in the TCP at Sawgrass, The Players is often referred to as the ‘fifth major’ due to its prestige. “After Scottsdale, I got to volunteer out in TCP Sawgrass for the Players Championship, again I had applied for to this previously and even had to do a Skype interview. Same deal again, paid for flights and then was looked after for the week, provided with top of the range gear. I was lucky cutting the greens again for the week, was out on the 11th, 13th, 15th and the famous 17th hole, known simply as the ‘Island Green.'” Although it is technically a peninsula.

Leave a Reply